Fixing Loss of Lumbar in the Deadlift

The deadlift is a great exercise for overall strength and transfers to a great deal of other movements and exercises. It can get a bad rap for being “dangerous” which is why form is critical. But how do we fix bad form?

When you look at the spine, the thoracic (upper back) has a natural kyphotic curve to it while the lumbar has a natural lordotic curve to it. In the case of an athlete’s shoulders leaning forward with a curved upper back, some would argue this is bad, while others would actually encourage this for competition since it allows the bar to stay lower to the ground. The reason some people are ok with it is that it is just an exaggeration of the kyphotic curve that is already in place. For the record, I coach new athletes to keep everything tight and as neutral as possible.

While kyphosis in the upper back is a debatable topic, kyphosis in the lower back (lumbar) is a more black and white issue. In a deadlift, if an athlete’s spine is curving in the opposite direction that is natural, we need to fix this.

Here’s an example of Brian, who was doing a deadlift workout – you can clearly see the change in lumbar as he initiates the deadlift. I believe this was 275#.

Most people would think it was the weight that was the issue. While this is partly true, I had him drop the weight to 135# and he STILL had this loss of lumbar. (no video of that unfortunately) So then I had him slow the movement down to 50% and this is what happened:

 

Still can work on it, but incredibly different than before. If I were doing a full PT with him, I’d have Brian add a little weight (20#) and have him deadlift at the same speed. If mechanics were faulty, we’d drop weight and/or slow it down even more. Because of the TUT (time under tension) with slower speeds, it makes sense to do slow reps at lower weight. Then we would play with different combinations of speed/weight/form to find a balance and promote positional and neurological strength.

Sometimes it’s not the weight, but rather the speed that we need to slow down. CrossFit is great because of the high intensity workouts, but there are two prerequisites to Intensity – Mechanics and Consistency. (for those of you old enough, remember MCI phone service??) Show me you can do a movement well, then show me you can be consistent with it. THEN we can do it at high intensity.

 

5 Ways to Lean Out That Have Nothing to Do with Food

I strongly dislike the term “losing* weight.” “Losing weight” can mean anything: clothes? bones? brain matter?? When people say they want to “lose weight” what they typically mean is that they want to lose fat, or what many refer to as “leaning out.”

[*As much as I dislike the term “losing weight,” “loosing weight” is even worse.]

Most professionals would agree that your body composition is largely due to your diet. Those percentages can range anywhere from 80-95%, but what about the other 5-20% of your life? There are other factors we need to think about if we are looking to lean out.

1. SLEEP
Your diet can be full of leafy green vegetables, grass-fed protein, and good fats, but if you’re sleeping 4 hours a night, you’re probably still not in great shape. Sleep is your body’s chance to reset. Lack of sleep means that appetite hormones such as leptin and ghrelin are thrown off, your stress hormone cortisol is sky-high, and your brain won’t make great decisions during the day, especially when it comes to food. For people working the night shift, it’s even worse news. Even if you’re getting 8+ hours of sleep during the day, your circadian rhythm is thrown off and you experience similar effects of only getting a few hours sleep. In an ideal world, you’re getting 8+ uninterrupted hours of sleep in a cool, dark room at night.

2. RELAX
Whatever that means for you, relax and have fun. Spend time with friends, go for a walk with your family, listen to your favorite music, get a massage, etc. The goal here is to lower stress. Lowering stress lowers cortisol and lowering chronic cortisol is a good thing. Cortisol is not inherently a bad thing – it’s part of the fight-or-flight response to danger. But if we are consistently stressed out, this hormone will tend to store fat along the midsection and mess with other non-essential functions including our memory and immune system.

3. STRENGTH TRAIN
One of the best ways to lean out is to strength train and build muscle. The goal here is not to burn calories WHILE exercising (a common misconception), but to build an engine that will burn fat throughout the day. Muscle is very expensive tissue – it takes a lot of calories to maintain muscle compared to fat, so let’s take advantage of this fact. This goes for men and women alike – put those 5 lb. dumbbells down and pick up a barbell. Compound movements such as the back squat, deadlift, and push press are all great muscle builders. Women: that “toning” that you want? This is the best way to get it. Bulking up like a professional body builder won’t happen the way you think it might. As an initial goal, men should be able to squat 1.5x bodyweight and women should be able to squat 1x bodyweight.

4. SPRINT
Sprinting can be in the traditional sense of running, but it can also be any acute, high-intensity exercise. The benefits are almost too many to list: fat loss, better insulin sensitivity, increased growth hormone to build muscle, better circulation and heart health, etc. Sprinting is efficient, easy to do (no equipment needed!) and has a myriad of benefits that I’ve already listed and that you can Google. Only once or twice a week is needed – that’s how potent these things are. Do a hill sprint every 2 minutes for 14 minutes and you’ll know what I mean.

5. GET VITAMIN D
Vitamin D is actually not even a vitamin, it’s a hormone and it’s essential. It’s incredibly good at countering stress (cortisol), increasing bone density, increasing testosterone, boosting the immune system, and reducing inflammation – all things related to leaning out. The best way to get vitamin D is directly from the sun. It only takes 15 minutes to get the best exposure from the sun, but in winter months or cloudy days, you may want to grab some Vitamin D3 from a store. You should do some research on how much to take – I find that most brands will recommend far less than is actually optimal. You might find recommended doses of 400 IU on the bottle, but I’ve read about people taking upwards of 20-40,000 IU. Personally if it’s winter or dark out, I’ll take 8-12,000 IU and don’t experience any negative side effects. Depending on your skin tone and other factors, your mileage may vary, so do your own research.

What you put through your pie hole absolutely matters when it comes to health and body composition. But there are a few other factors to keep in mind that aren’t related to food. Getting quality sleep, reducing your stress, strength training, sprinting, and getting adequate Vitamin D are all going to help you lean out. Instead of trying to do all things at once, pick one that you think is achievable and set a goal of being consistent with that for two weeks. If you can do that, add another element and continue in this fashion until you hit all five.

Lastly, don’t let the pursuit of perfection get in the way of good. Yes, in a perfect world you’re getting 9 hours of sleep in a cool dark room. If you are improving from 4 hours to 7 hours interrupted by a crying baby, is that failure? No way! (Am I speaking from personal experience? Maybe) We’re all on a journey and will have different priorities at different times in our lives. Do what’s best for you right now and don’t worry about everyone else. Do you.

2016 CrossFit Open Recap – Feel vs. Numbers

The CrossFit Open officially began in 2011 with about 13,400 men competing across the world. This year (2016) saw almost that many men (12,000) compete just in the Mid-Atlantic region – wild! I went back through old workout logs and the Games site to find my results from each workout and Open and this is what I came up with:

Screen Shot 2016-04-16 at 12.24.41 PM.png

Some of the regional and world ranks are missing for specific workouts because the Open site would refresh with new results, so if I didn’t grab that info right away, it was lost in the shuffle. Looking at the overall world rankings though (highlighted in yellow) actually surprised me. I went into this year without having done much training as in the past (e.g. in past years I’ve followed Outlaw/Smolov/Invictus or at least had been consistently training) whereas this year I’ve been very inconsistent mostly due to traveling for work and having an 8 month old. This is by no means complaining (seriously!) – those who know me know I love having a little human to dress up in ridiculous outfits, I’m just stating a major difference in lifestyle compared to past years.

So this is why it was really surprising to see my overall percentages drop for overall rankings. By the end of 2011, I was just around 30% compared to men around the world, then 13.88% in 2012, 27% in 2014, 12.88% in 2015, and 7.88% this year. As many of you know, 2012 was my year of ripping my shoulder of its socket so I took the 2013 Open season off. (It took about a year to get back my pull-ups, handstand push-ups, muscle-ups, etc. so I only had about 6 months of “normal” training leading up to the 2014 Open.) If I had to go simply by how I felt about my strength and conditioning, I would have expected this year to actually be the worst out of all of them. I suspect that in 2011, most of the people doing the Open were fairly seasoned CrossFitters. As Reebok took over as a major sponsor and CrossFit has exploded in popularity, we’ve seen a broader spectrum of athletes participate. I don’t have any data to back this up, so this is merely conjecture. I suppose that you can relate this to why we track workout data – even though you might “feel” tired and lethargic, your weight or time for a workout might say the opposite.

In terms of this year’s workouts, here were my experiences:

16.1 – OH lunges, burpees over bar and chest-to-bar pull-ups – I did this one the night it was announced and only did it once that week. I felt TERRIBLE during the workout, most likely because of an ice cream binge the night before + all-you-can-eat sushi that afternoon. I probably should have repeated it and taken steps in stride rather than the “wedding” style that I did. Pull-ups felt great, burpees felt awful.

16.2 – Toes-to-bar, du’s, and ascending cleans – I did this one the night it was announced and was 7 reps short of getting through the 185# bar. I felt ok on this one, but needed to do it again because we didn’t realize what the tie break was. I managed to squeak through the 185 bar, but then was gasping for air through the next round. With about 30 seconds left, I attempted the 225# bar, but couldn’t catch it right. This actually impacted me later for 16.5, as I probably hyperextended my wrist and didn’t realize it at the time.

16.3 – Light snatches and bar muscle-ups – if there was a workout for me, it was going to be this one as I’m a big fan of bar muscle-ups, especially compared to the ring version. I paced the first attempt way too much, so the second attempt I just went all out. Form was atrocious on snatches – they were essentially stiff legged muscle snatches, but it got me ranked 4.11% in the world for that workout.

16.4 – Chipper of 55’s: Deadlifts, wall balls, rowing, and HSPUs – I cranked out 25 or so deadlifts to start and felt like I could have done 40, but forced myself to stop. Looking back, I probably should have actually done a huge set, instead of pacing it because I needed all the time on the wall balls and rowing. I had not been working HSPUs as much as I would have liked, so the 22 HSPUs I got reflected my current ability. I tried it again, but everything was slower.

16.5 – Thrusters and burpees for time – As I said in 16.2, my wrist was jacked up, so holding the bar for this was tough. I had to be really stiff and hold it off my clavicle – not ideal.  I also only did this once and waited for Monday afternoon to do it. Even if my wrist was healthy, I probably would not have matched my time from 2014 as I felt my legs and lungs were also holding me back.

I was surprised there were not overhead squats nor opportunities for full snatches in 2016. I suppose since these are my goats, I expected to see at least one of them. I was also surprised that we didn’t see box jumps for the second year in a row. Does this mean we might not see them ever again? Maybe. There are a few movements I don’t think we’ll ever see in the Open: hand release push-ups (11.2 was a disaster even with that “standard”), KB swings (just look up “AJ Moore” to see why), rope climbs (too many boxes in retail space with low ceilings), and long distance running (I could see shuttle sprints similar to how we did overhead lunges this year). Box jumps are relatively easy to judge and count, so I do expect that we’ll see them in the future. Perhaps in the form of burpee box jumps to make it even more objective?

Overall I thought the programming was excellent compared to past years. The scaled options made sense (unlike last year), the movements were varied and interesting, and the formats of the workouts were smart. The only complaint I heard from people was that there were not many opportunities for strength – we saw it in the clean ladder, but it was proceeded by toes-to-bar and double unders. I would argue that the stronger athletes prevailed even with the lighter weights, but that goes back to the old “cream will rise to the top” saying.

The best thing about the Open for me was seeing members push themselves to do things they never would do in the daily WOD. These feats ranged from getting more double unders than ever, getting their first bar muscle-up or chest-to-bar pull-up, and even doing the Open in the first place when in past years they didn’t sign up or participate! The 0.022% of individuals that make it to the Games are really exciting to watch, but the other 99.98% of the athletes can make for the coolest stories and really, that’s what the Open is about for me.